Similar to the NYC playground situation, as of July 1, NYC beaches are finally fully open for the summer (read: unlike before, you can actually go in the water now). Of course, you should still practice social distancing and wear masks if you go. (We like these face masks for kids and adults from local businesses.) These NYC beaches are free, and are accessible by subway. Grab some towels, some sunscreen and have fun — but be safe!
The NYC Parks Department maintains 14 miles of beaches, all of which are traditionally open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day with lifeguards on duty daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
As mentioned, you can access all of these beaches via public transportation. If you're driving, parking varies (street parking, lots, etc.); you can access parking info for individual beaches at the NYC Parks site here.
Note that our write-ups include highlights of each beach, some of which may be closed due to COVID-19 safety measures at this time.
Coney Island in Brooklyn
Over the past decade, Coney Island has undergone a renaissance and renovation that makes it our first go-to beach of the summer. The beach is wide and deep with a series of large, new restroom stations at regular intervals. Each year, the food options get more diverse and the quality improves, with Nathan's Famous hot dogs holding center court. The expansive boardwalk is also home to Luna Park amusement pier as well as legendary rides such as Deno's Wonder Wheel (celebrating 100 years in 2020) and of course, the Cyclone roller coaster. In short, there is something here for everyone!
For more fun: The fantastic New York Aquarium is down the boardwalk, and the Coney Island Art Walls also make a great stop for photos. For a special treat, keep the kids up late and stay for the fireworks display every Friday night starting at about 9:30 p.m. Shows start the last weekend in June and run through August.
Getting there: Take the D, Q, N, or F train to Stillwell Avenue, or from Manhattan, the X28 or X38 express bus. Travel time is about 45 minutes from midtown.
Brighton Beach in Brooklyn
About a mile down the boardwalk from Coney Island—past the New York Aquarium, which was largely rebuilt following Hurricane Sandy—lies Brighton Beach, of "memoirs" fame. Despite the proximity the Coney, these two beaches offer up entirely different experiences. There are no rides to be had at Brighton Beach, but there is a playground on the beach, and another nearby. (Still: eagle-eyed children can spot Deno's Wonder Wheel from a mile away!) The food offerings are decidedly more unified: mostly ethnic Russian cuisine, all of which is outstanding. We recommend Tatiana's, which is right on the boardwalk.
For more fun: Bring a Russian-English dictionary and allow enough time to shop for pierogies, kielbasa, pickled herring, and other exotic picnic fare in the Russian stores that line Brighton Beach Avenue, under the elevated subway tracks.
Getting there: Take the B or Q to Brighton Beach for a 45-minute ride from midtown.
Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn
Lying further east along Brooklyn's waterfront is Manhattan Beach which is the quietest and least crowded of them all. With mainland streets that are zoned entirely residential and filled with mostly large, single-family homes with lawns, you may have to remind yourself that you are still within city limits. You can bring your own picnic provisions on any city beach, and that's exactly what you should do when heading here.
For more fun: If your kids need a break from the buckets and sand toys, and you need a break from watching them at water's edge, head to one of two large playgrounds at either end of this beach. There are also basketball and tennis courts to be found here.
Getting there: Take the B or Q to Brighton Beach then walk due east along the boardwalk until the very end. Travel time is about 45 minutes from midtown.
Far Rockaway in Queens
Far Rockaway has a residential beach town feel that is reminiscent of some Jersey Shore towns. Home to the city's only official surf spot at 90 Street, the beaches are generally quieter and less crowded. For sustenance, Rippers, right on the beach at 86 Street, has reliably good, simple food, beer, wine, and hip music.
For more fun: Who needs California when you can learn to surf in Queens? The Rockaway Beach Surf Camp offers week-long programs for children and adults. (Yes, they are open!)
Getting there: Take the Far Rockaway-bound A train to Broad Channel and transfer to the S line to B 90 Street/Holland. Travel time is about an hour from midtown.
Orchard Beach in the Bronx
Nestled into the Long Island Sound, the waves at Orchard Beach are gentle and warm—excellent for young children. The wide, crescent-shaped beach gets decidedly less crowded the further north you go. The well-curated Nature Center on site has rangers on hand to answer questions and lead programs throughout Pelham Bay Park, which is where the beach is located. There are also playgrounds and ball courts along the boardwalk, and shaded picnic areas between the beach and the parking lot. There are typical park food vendors, but we recommend packing a picnic.
For more fun: Three times the size of Central Park, Pelham Bay Park includes miles of hiking trails throughout its woods, and they start right at the boardwalk. The nearby Bronx Equestrian Center also offers pony rides and trail rides on horses; take the Bx29 bus or walk about 20 minutes to get there.
Getting there: Take the 6 to Pelham Bay and transfer to the Bx12 bus. The trip takes about an hour from midtown Manhattan.
Jacob Riis in Queens
Part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, Jacob Riis beach is run by the New York Harbor Parks (rather than the NYC Parks Department). With gentle waves and a long, shallow waterway out to the deeper surf, this is a great place to come with younger children, thanks to a playground on the beach, miniature golf, and a variety of ranger-led nature programs. Concession trucks selling an eclectic array of eats dot the parking lot behind the beach.
For more fun: Food, shopping, and entertainment are all part of the experience here now, thanks to the Riis Park Beach Bazaar (from the folks behind the night market Brooklyn Bazaar). Note: Food and drink options are more limited this season, and events have been cancelled for summer 2020.
Getting there: Take the 2 train to Flatbush Avenue, then the Q35 bus to the beach. (Travel time is a little more than an hour from midtown Manhattan.) The New York Beach Ferry also provides summer service to the beach.
—Cheryl de Jong-Lambert & Mimi O’Connor